I’m writing this in the aftermath of a loss suffered by Villanova at Butler. The Bulldogs beat Jay Wright’s No. 1-ranked team Saturday with a remarkable display of outside shooting, and when it was over, LaVall Jordan’s men had a 101-93 victory over the previously undefeated Wildcats.
The conventions of sportswriting require that I must now tut-tut sternly and say that Villanova’s defense has been exposed. I should insist that the Wildcats will be vulnerable until they learn to do a better job of chasing opponents off the 3-point line. Last, I should warn Nova fans that they are in for a nervous time this season until and unless their team proves that it can buckle down on defense.
I’m not going to do any of that, however, because I really don’t believe any of that. Villanova will be fine.
Oh, I’ll grant that this bunch of Wildcats (13-1) is no defensive juggernaut at this point. They entered the Butler game with opponents having made just 31 percent of their 3s so far this season. That was likely to correct toward normalcy at some point, and at Hinkle Fieldhouse, it corrected with a vengeance. The Bulldogs (12-3) hit 68 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc: 15 of 22.
But look at the bright side if you’re Wright. Last season in Division I games, a team made 15 or more 3s in just 2 percent of all outings recorded by an offense. In other words, an opponent doing that to your team is pretty much a 1-in-50 kind of occurrence.
That doesn’t mean Villanova is absolutely immune to similarly devastating games from opponents for the next 49 games. (Think of all the “500-year floods” you’ve seen documented the past couple years.) Still, it does mean that a simple but often overlooked point was on display in Indianapolis. Sometimes the other team doesn’t miss.
Wright knows this better than anyone, and he has come out on the winning and losing side of the truism. Two years ago this month, his team was absolutely shellacked 78-55 by Buddy Hield and Oklahoma in a game played in Hawaii. The Sooners hit 14 3s in that game, and in the aftermath of that loss, the Wildcats dropped out of the top 10 in the AP poll.
You know the rest. Four months later, Villanova faced off against Oklahoma again, only this time the game was played at the Final Four in Houston. That night, the Wildcats buried OU 95-51, thanks to what was arguably the best 40 minutes of shooting recorded by any team at a Final Four in the 3-point shot era.
Shooting is funny that way, but it does seem that the percentages have tended to work in Villanova’s favor most of the time the past few seasons. There’s a very good chance that dynamic will make itself felt again in 2017-18.
Even with a shocking “1” now in their loss column, the Wildcats have one of the best if not the best one-two combos in the nation in Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson. Both players are legitimate candidates for Big East player of the year honors, and both managed the not inconsiderable feat of looking the part even as his team suffered its first defeat.
Basically, the things that have made Villanova “Villanova” over the past few seasons — good shooting, the versatility afforded by skilled veterans on offense and, not least, Wright himself — are still here. Plus, this team is blessed with more depth in the frontcourt than we’re accustomed to seeing. Eric Paschall has been joined by Omari Spellman in the rotation, and both players are proving to be valuable whether flying solo or in tandem.
Now, all that said, give full credit to Butler. With the exception of a five-minute lull late in the second half, the Bulldogs were well-nigh unbeatable. Kelan Martin and Paul Jorgensen scored a combined 47 points on 8-of-11 3-point shooting. Clearly, the better team within those 40 minutes recorded the win.
The good news for Villanova is simply that, since 2013-14, this team has been a model of consistency, winning four consecutive regular-season Big East titles. Consistency doesn’t allow you to win on the road when the other team makes 15 3s, but it does enable you to live to fight another day. I expect the Wildcats will do just that.